By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
I’m sure you know the expression, You need to love yourself before you can love someone else. To that, I would add, You need to think someone else can love you before you feel loved. Together, these pieces of advice offer some wisdom worth thinking more about. They suggest that being in a loving relationship is based on both your relationship with yourself and your ideas of whether someone else can really be there for you.
If you feel that you are a lovable person, then you also feel secure in yourself. You know deep in your heart that you bring something special to relationships and are worthy of being treasured. Unfortunately, if you carry a sense within you that you are somehow essentially flawed and unworthy of love, then you will also struggle with your relationships; especially romantic ones. To at least some degree, you will probably look to your partner to assure you that you have value. But this can put you in a bind. If your partner expresses love and caring, it won’t feel right because it doesn’t fit with what you think about yourself. (This reminds me of the old Groucho Marx remark: I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.) On the other hand, if your partner is unsupportive or unavailable in any way, you will probably feel rejected, abandoned, or deeply hurt. So, getting your partner’s love and acceptance can become a full-time occupation.
When thinking about whether you can depend on your partner being there for you, you will fall back on your bias of whether you believe that people can be reliably accepting and supportive. If you instinctively trust that your partner can be relied upon, then you are likely to be more open to being close and vulnerable and to depending on your partner. If your experience has taught you not to trust a partner with your emotions (that they will not care, won’t get you, or will betray you), then you will likely keep your emotional distance. You will tend to value being independent and self-sufficient. These can be wonderful qualities, but they make it difficult to have a close, committed romantic relationship.
There are, of course, many factors that affect your relationships, such as physical attraction and how well your interests compliment each other. But these other influences are secondary in determining how well you can connect. The more open you are to loving yourself and to the possibility that someone else can truly love you, the happier you will be with your partner.
If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic on the Relationships and Coping Community, click here.